Wednesday, June 20 , 2018, 12:39 am | Fair 61º


Tensions Ease after Hiring of 2 Interim Special-Ed Directors

Santa Barbara School District's decision appears to defuse long-running dispute.

The Santa Barbara School District has put two new interim directors in charge of special education, the latest attempt to quell controversy surrounding the long-troubled department. A simmering dispute boiled over last month with the resignation of the special-education director, prompting calls for more resignations.

The interim directors — Ric Nargie, formerly a director from the Ventura Unified School District, and Alan Hilton, formerly the director of San Luis Obispo County’s Special Education Local Plan Area — will head the department until the end of the school year. The department has had seven leaders over the past eight years.

The trouble began percolating in mid-October, when parents of children with special needs began attending board meetings to complain about a shortage of trained instructional aides, a failure to follow through on legally mandated education plans created for their children by educators and, above all, a lack of responsiveness from the district about their concerns.

It came to a head Nov. 21, with the resignation of special-ed director Anissa McNeil.

Then, in mid-December, longtime school board Bob Noel called on Superintendent Brian Sarvis to resign, saying Sarvis lacked the temperament for the job. Noel’s criticism was met by an equally vociferous counter-attack from supporters of Sarvis — including members of the local business community and former school board members — who called on Noel to resign, saying his brand of criticism has long been a destructive element on the board.

The board’s hiring of Nargie and Hilton on Jan. 13 seemed to please parents of special-education students, as well as ameliorate the tensions between Sarvis and Noel.

Jennifer Griffin, co-chairwoman of a local group called Parents of Special Education, said she doesn’t know either of the two interim directors, but is nonetheless pleased by the board’s decision.

“I’m really glad there are two of them,” she said. “We’re all considering the fact that perhaps it’s a job that’s too big for one person.”

The board also considered hiring a consulting company for the purpose of analyzing the special-education department, but at the request of parents, it held off. Sarvis said he will review at least one more company before bringing a recommendation back to the board.

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